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China watches Taiwan election
By Ben Blanchard
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 19 - 10 - 2011

China is steeling itself for another presidential election in Taiwan, hoping a victory for the ruling Nationalists enables even better ties but also girding for an opposition win that may inflame tensions.
China sees self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province and the island's close, unofficial relations with the United States, which include arms sales, are a major irritant in ties between Washington and Beijing. Analysts say the United States could one day be dragged into a war over Taiwan.
Beijing has never been comfortable with elections on Taiwan and has warned any attempt to set up an independent “Republic of Taiwan” would end in conflict.
Even so, relations have improved rapidly since 2008, when the island elected Ma Ying-jeou as president.
Ma, the head of the Nationalist Party, or KMT, which ruled all of China before fleeing to Taiwan at the end of a civil war in 1949, signed landmark economic deals with China.
Beijing has found working with Ma much more favorable than his predecessor Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who it refused to deal with and accused of pushing for independence.
“They're very concerned about this upcoming election,” said Dafydd Fell, senior lecturer in Taiwan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, of China's leaders.
“Even when the DPP was at its lowest point, when I was talking to Taiwan people in China, they were still very worried at the prospect of the DPP coming back to power.”
Chen was jailed for corruption after stepping down from power. The DPP however has bounced back from that scandal and has put up the steely, US and British-educated Tsai Ing-wen to face Ma in January.
Chinese leaders will be hoping desperately that Ma gets back into office and continues a rapprochement that thus far has focused on economic issues but which China will eventually want to cover much harder and more sensitive political matters.
China will have to tread carefully, however. Previous attempts to influence Taiwan elections have backfired.
In 1996, then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin ordered live fire missiles tests and war games in the seas around Taiwan to try and intimidate voters not to back Lee Teng-hui, who China believed was moving the island closer to formal independence.
The crisis bought the two sides to the verge of conflict and prompted the United States to sail a carrier task force through the Taiwan Strait in a warning to Beijing.
Even worse for China, Lee won the election by a landslide.
“If the DPP wins, while China may be dissatisfied or displeased, it will not cancel groups or suspend direct flights in the beginning,” said I-hsin Chen, professor at the Graduate Institute of the Americas at Taipei's Tamkang University.
“Instead, it will send congratulations to Tsai Ying-wen first and take a wait-and

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